Behind The Curtain: The Guts Of A Commercial Shoot

Whew. If you’ve tuned in at all in the past few days, you’re aware of what I’ve got cooking. To my knowledge this is one of the first (perhaps THE first?) global, multi-week-long, play-by-play commercial shoot to have its behind-the-scenes life chronicled and broadcast almost in real time via blog, Facebook, and Twitter. This will be the deepest look into the black box of photography that I’ve been able to share to date. By a country mile.

So two things coming at ya here in this post. One, the overview of what I’m doing. Two, the why I think its cool.

First, the overview:
1. I’m working on the south island of New Zealand–and it’s winter down here in the southern hemisphere.

2. The campaign I’m shooting is for SanDisk, the company that invented flash memory and is the maker of most of our industry’s memory cards.

3. The subject matter is skiing and snowboarding. Some helicopter access, some terrain park, some half pipe.

4. The athletes I’m working with are some of the best in the world. Guys like X-Games gold medalists Simon Dumont and TJ Schiller. Epic.

5. My contractual deliverables for the project are quite specific, but you know me – I’m shooting a ton of formats. Everything from the Nikons and the Hassie’s to video to the iPhone, so you’ll see all sorts.

6. Since daylight is short in winter, since there are often weather holds, and since we’re here for a couple weeks, I’m really making an effort to paint the largest picture possible. I’ll dive into the creative process, art direction, interviews with the crew and talent, a little gear talk, hell, even production details that normally give me the willies to think about.

7. As I said in my quick intro vid a couple days ago- the content I’ll push your way will be largely unpolished. It’s a choice I’ve been forced to make between putting out polished behind the scenes stuff or putting out volumes of behind the scenes stuff. I chose the latter based on feedback from lots of you from this community. The video you see above is the most polished thing I’ll put out. And we only had the chance to do that because today was day 1 of shooting and the weather crapped out on us.

8. There may be things you think are sucky or boring. But everything I’ll post will be relevant to questions I’ve received or things I’m passionate about. It won’t be candy coated, but I tend to have an overtly positive attitude, sometimes to a fault. I won’t brood or linger when stuff goes sideways, but content will run the gamut of our experiences here in the trenches.

9. I want this to be as interactive as possible. For it to be a collective success, please send in your questions, comments, ideas. I’ll do my best.

So that’s the what I’m doing. The why I think this sort of thing is cool is after the jump… [Click the ‘continue reading’ link below…]


Now the why I think this is cool. Generally I think it’s cool because it represents a shift in several things:

1. The technology to be able to do this wasn’t ripe until just recently. Now, that technology is right at our fingertips. Let’s use it.

2. Taking on such an endeavor is a substantial workload add-on to the normal campaign effort – which tends to be all encompassing as it is. Posting images, videos and words while on breaks and/or in the evening after really long days can be rough when you’re so deeply immersed in the primary task at had – making great pictures for a client who is paying real bucks. My crew is so effing hard working and wants to do more for the community; and SanDisk actually gets it – that sharing is cool. Those two things are sorta game changers.

3. Today almost everything in high-end advertising still lives under the tightest of wraps until well after the campaign has come out – or even longer – like forever. No one gets to share, disclose, or discuss much of anything, really. Historically speaking–for a myriad of reasons, some legit, others flimsy, spurious, and unjustly fear based–nobody wanted to be first in shedding light on the gritty details of how stuff really got done…the “making of the sausage” if you will. Regardless of the industry. But this–and other things like it–are signs that times are changing. Sure 90% of the commercial work that we pros do is still kept under wraps. And of the 10% that’s even remotely “transparent”, there are still many elements of those gigs that are kept under strict confidence and non-disclosure. But I love that its all evolving.

Lastly, like a woodworker loves a mortise and tenon joint, or a biochemist loves the cells in a rat’s liver, I love what I do, in case you can’t tell… and I hope you enjoy following along.

Mucho content on the way.

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62 Responses to Behind The Curtain: The Guts Of A Commercial Shoot

  1. Diala Chinedu Photography September 9, 2009 at 4:18 am #

    WOW…thanks chase…I cant wait to see more videos

  2. swinhoe September 9, 2009 at 4:21 am #

    I love those mountains… awesome settings.

    Look forward to seeing the photos..


  3. Lyndon maher September 9, 2009 at 4:22 am #

    i actually cant wait to see what your iphone produces in new zealand :-)

    hate to get you on a technicality but its now spring here in the southern hemisphere, winter was last month!! but i guess where u are it still feels like winter hey? new zealand is an awesome place.

    good on you for embracing social media to promote yourself – and thanks for sharing.

    will u be flying through sydney or stopping by australia for a bit on your way home?

    cheers dude

  4. C.C. Chapman September 9, 2009 at 4:32 am #

    Thanks for taking the extra time to create and share all these behind the scenes pieces of content. Very inspiring and educational all at once.

    What a beautiful location to shoot.

  5. Ed September 9, 2009 at 4:33 am #

    Sweet flyover.

  6. Regular Visitor September 9, 2009 at 4:44 am #

    Spectacular! Chase, you do a wonderful thing! The second you said SanDisk I'm even more into that company. I own their USB sticks and SD/miniSD cards, and they're awesome. Now, for me, no other company matters if it comes flash memories.

    Great you put raw materials right away. Really appreciate it!

    What I would like to see is how you plan the shots for the composites that you latter assemble in PS and how you actually do it.

    Showing the stuff from all the cameras would be cool. Of course the best would be to make in the style of RAW Hasselblad Masters.

    Good weather there!

  7. szabiakanich September 9, 2009 at 4:48 am #

    Thanks again A LOT for all the effort you put into all this, Chase. This is really amazing. I (and I'm sure many others) appreciate it a lot and I'm going to be following all the updates as they happen. It fantastic that you are willing to share all of this info with us.

    One question I have right away is if you post process the daily material on the spot (as in in the evening) or do you shoot and shoot and shoot and then come home to Seattle and post process here everything?

    Also, now that you are in a remote place and the weather is quite nasty and cold, what computers do you use out in the field and how do you keep all the stuff going/functioning at those sub zero temperatures?

    And last but not least. If you spot something cool or some cool scene, do you shoot for your own personal work/portfolio or is it "all about the job at hand"?


  8. danno September 9, 2009 at 4:49 am #

    thanks for rockin the updates man. lookin good so far.


  9. Mortimer September 9, 2009 at 5:13 am #

    Looks like a great place to shoot and I love to see everything in video, thanks for sharing.

    I was just wondering if you could get a backlash from SanDisk when they see how you process, etc.
    I mean, they could get offended that you "pack quick and dirty" for their photoshoots ;)

  10. glenn fajota September 9, 2009 at 5:14 am #

    nice read. cant wait to see the finished product

  11. Chris Bermudo September 9, 2009 at 5:16 am #

    sick… keep them coming chase

  12. Alex DiFiori September 9, 2009 at 5:17 am #

    Sharing is caring man.

    Thanks for keepin it real.

  13. Samuel Clarke September 9, 2009 at 5:24 am #

    Good stuff! New Zealand's a beautiful place – I lived on the edge of Lake Tarawera (just out of Rotorua) with Mt Tarawera towering above us for 6 months…was heaps of fun!

    Looking forward to what you're going to dish out – and thanks!

  14. Eric Schmiedl September 9, 2009 at 5:25 am #

    Thanks for making the effort and taking the time to keep us updated on the shoot!

  15. Wade September 9, 2009 at 5:52 am #

    Thanks for all the time and effort you're putting into sharing your experience!

  16. Jeffrey Friedl September 9, 2009 at 6:33 am #

    Along with everyone else I'm fascinated to see the process, but now that you've identified the client, I'm even more interested to see the result because memory is essentially a commodity, differentiated mostly on un-sexy technical specs. Try as I might, I just can't imagine how they'll recoup in marketing value the vast sums they must be spending on this shoot.

    I don't mean to be a downer amid all these "hey cool!" comments (I half feel like I'm making an "emperor has no clothes" comment), but a sporting-goods client would make a lot more sense for this kind of outlay.

    So, very much looking forward to see the results, and again, all that leads up to them….

  17. matthew d. l yons September 9, 2009 at 6:51 am #

    Thanks for the video, and details on what's involved in the shoot. This is incredibly interesting and educational for an aspiring professional.

    I can't wait to see what comes of the shoot. Many of the questions I had have already been asked, so I won't repeat.


  18. bH September 9, 2009 at 6:52 am #

    Awesome vid Chase. Looking forward to following along on this ground breaking adventure. I'm especially looking forward to the "gear" portion of your sharing expedition. Don't forget to mention the gear that aside from your photography stuff. It's pretty clear that you're battling the elements out there, so it would be cool to see the gadgets and apparel you're using to get you through the day and make your job easier.

  19. stephenelliot September 9, 2009 at 7:08 am #

    Love it! Really enjoyed your thoughts about this being a "transparent" client. Can't wait to see more of those popping up. Keep sharing!!

  20. ThatcherDorn September 9, 2009 at 7:30 am #

    I hate you so much right now. But I love seeing this stuff!

  21. M. S. Kirk September 9, 2009 at 8:04 am #

    This seems like the perfect venue for my first question: How do you keep your hands warm and shoot?!?!!? I have tried different gloves, fingerless mitten combos and even heavy gloves that I take off to shoot with and I do not like any of them. I see that you are in a cold climate similar to what I live in so….help!!!

    Thanks again for the revealing the Black Box of photography!

    matt k

  22. Jeremy September 9, 2009 at 8:20 am #


    Community/commercial symbiosis. San-Disk get even more exposure through blog mentions and we get to see how it all goes down behind the scenes. Perfect!

    You mentioned your whole crew working hard to get this stuff out at the end of a hard day. That's the sign of a great team…willing to go that little bit extra to do something special. A special 'thanks' to them!


  23. Ed September 9, 2009 at 8:25 am #

    Loved the synergy of the beginning and end – your camera burst and the helicopters blades sounded almost exactly the same. Ah NZ, want to go so badly. Thanks for posting all this!

    You know you'll have to go through Moria eventually right – you can't get over that pass ;-)

  24. Anonymous September 9, 2009 at 8:46 am #

    Now that you mention SanDisk it makes a lot more sense why this is happening – it is part of their marketing campaign, which is awesome. It is really great to see a behind the curtain commercial shoot! So my question is can you share anything from the contract side of things? Like how they approached you do do such a thing and how the contract process went. You mentioned it was finalized and the next day you and your team went to New Zealand for two weeks, so it must have been a crazy contract process.

  25. MaskedGK September 9, 2009 at 9:09 am #

    It may seem silly to some, but I would also like to get a peek at how you prepare to be out in the elements. What kind of gloves do you wear to maintain dexterity while shooting, but also keep your hands warm and dry?

  26. Anonymous September 9, 2009 at 9:34 am #

    woah I didn't catch it from the first video, but New Zealand in the winter? That's awesome!. anyways, from reading your post, it sounds like a lotta work. so i'm curious. do you get stressed out or feel any pressure from these gigs? from your post,
    "making great pictures for a client who is paying real bucks"
    so do you get stressed out about that kinda stuff? feel any pressure from your client about producing something extraordinary? or is your ego way up there to the point that you just hammer through it o_O. haha

    anyways good luck with the shoot!

  27. car blog September 9, 2009 at 9:36 am #

    oh my that is some weather

  28. Kevin Duda September 9, 2009 at 9:58 am #

    You left Scott on the mountain?!?!?

    I'm pretty interested to see where this goes, Chase. I feel myself on the verge of burning out and although I love Zack and David, their "get yer butt in gear" inspirational stuff wasn't really doing it for me. I think seeing it in action is what's more likely to keep me in the game.

    We'll see.


  29. kelly September 9, 2009 at 10:44 am #

    Chase jarvis,
    I wish you would post the videos on vimeo or youtube as well. Facebook is blocked where i access internet and i want to watch your videos.

  30. Liquid Earth September 9, 2009 at 11:15 am #

    Thanks for sharing all of this Chase, I prefer this raw stuff over polished any time. I think it's awesome that SanDisk is allowing you to do this. Maybe there will come a point when this kind of raw behind-the-scenes content will become the actual ad, and the actual campaign just a byproduct.

  31. Anonymous September 9, 2009 at 11:42 am #

    Chase and Staff,

    Seriously thanks so much for spending the time to give us a behind the scenes look at what goes on during these shoots. Even though it's just a job to you it really means a lot to see everything up close to those who are aspiring.

    I'm all about learning, Is there anything you can share on the networking it takes with clients to get a gig?
    Also the details that are involved, from knowing the image they want, too how finances are involved and ultimately agreeing to it.

    I must say New Zealand looks amazing! Thanks again bro.


  32. Kevin September 9, 2009 at 12:25 pm #

    Chase – thanks for posting this stuff up! Many of us, myself included, have never seen the inner workings of a large commercial shoot like this. It seems most shoots of this type are kept under wraps per the client's request.

    Someone else mentioned it too, but I'm curious as to what you do to combat the elements and keep your gear functioning as it should so you can keep focused on making pictures.

  33. Gallo September 9, 2009 at 1:57 pm #

    Love the idea, thank you for sharing Chase! If we are ever in the same city, u gotta let me buy u a beer! :) take care brother!

  34. Zach September 9, 2009 at 2:19 pm #

    I, for one, can't wait to see what comes of this.

  35. Jeff Patterson September 9, 2009 at 3:22 pm #

    ..See you at the park sometime… maybe. Need an another assistant?
    Have fun down here!

  36. Mark Dunlap Photography September 9, 2009 at 3:28 pm #

    Like just about everyone else out there, I'm jazzed to see your updates as they come and looking forward to seeing the inner workings of a major commercial job like this. Very interested in each stage of the job.

  37. cornicello September 9, 2009 at 3:33 pm #

    Um…did you leave Scotty behind there?

  38. Kate September 9, 2009 at 7:20 pm #

    Great Stuff, Chase I can't wait. Thanks so much.

  39. A Photojournalist Who Blogs September 9, 2009 at 7:22 pm #

    Let me know if you need any more assistants down there – looks like fun! I am excited to see more.

    I'm curious what precautions, if any, you need to take for your gear in extreme cold. Is your assistant keeping your batteries tucked under his armpits or what?!

  40. John Sturr September 9, 2009 at 7:44 pm #

    1. Was the site chosen by you or the client.

    2. Who determined the budget for the shoot — and how.

    3. What is the deliverable – for what use.

    4. How much creative direction is yours in percentage.

    5. How do you say no – or do you always say yes.


  41. artcola September 9, 2009 at 9:16 pm #

    Did Scott have to change his shorts after that flyover??? Pretty killer!

  42. Aimee Greeblemonkey September 9, 2009 at 10:41 pm #

    This is gonna rawk! Thanks for sharing.

  43. Anonymous September 10, 2009 at 1:22 am #

    Just wondering, do you plan to hold a workshop or seminar on being a pro photog? Some of us here in NZ would really appreciate attending and learning. Cheers.

  44. Marcin Retecki September 10, 2009 at 4:49 am #

    Can't wait for more. It's the best idea ever, Chase, finally someone showing real stuff, not just short clips but serious commentary.

    Even you RAW series, with all respect, it was awesome, was a bit of a show off. But this time it's a real deal, thank you!

  45. Mike Stetzel September 10, 2009 at 7:01 am #

    Scott, were you behind the camera on this? I'm just picturing whoever was getting caked in snow from that fly over. Nice Work! Love the video updates.


  46. Fotografo Matrimonio September 10, 2009 at 8:10 am #

    Wow, thanks to post really nice.
    Always interesting and beautiful.

  47. Philip Oliver September 10, 2009 at 10:30 am #

    Chase that's awesome! Enjoy Dumont! He'll give you some great shots, I got to shoot him at Sunday River this past spring.

    Great stuff! Keep it comin'!

    - Phil

  48. Chase Jarvis September 11, 2009 at 4:15 pm #

    @ everyone: we decided to pick up scotty after all… ;)

  49. Anonymous September 12, 2009 at 12:56 pm #

    Hey Chase,
    I always have problems to view these flash videos on my computer. I can´t hear the sound, or my machine will not stream it. Can you please make it downloadable? Or post it to another source like youtube, where I easy can download it? Thank you,


  50. Chase Jarvis September 13, 2009 at 3:30 am #

    @ anon 12:56 – thanks for the feedback. we're posting vids to a mix of youtube and facebook depending on what's easiest for us to upload to at any given time… More stuff bound for youtube this week. Thx!

  51. Rachel Kemper September 13, 2009 at 2:28 pm #

    I was JUST informed by Nick Onken that you are in New Zealand!! I am a Nashvillian currently living in Wellington. I'll be in NZ working, traveling & studying photography until Next August. I went to the South Island straight away upon arriving at the end of July…Queenstown was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Look forward to seeing your work on this project…all the best!!

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